Contributors to Norm Coleman’s election recount effort might want to cancel their credit cards, according to the campaign.
An e-mail circulated on Wednesday said the Web site, WikiLeaks, which specializes in providing an outlet for people who want to post secret information, has obtained private information from the campaign such as the credit card numbers of donors.
“Let me be very clear: At this point, we don’t know if last evening’s email is a political dirty trick or what the objective is of the person who sent the email,” Campaign official Cullen Sheehan wrote in an e-mail to donors. “What we do know, however, is that there is a strong likelihood that these individuals have found a way to breach private and confidential information.”
While the Coleman campaign e-mail notification might alert some of the donors, 1,500 of the nearly 5,000 people on the spreadsheet did not list an e-mail address.
Who’s behind WikiLeaks? Julian Assange, an Australian living in Africa who was interviewed last summer (by email) by the Sydney Morning Herald. “In every negotiation, in every planning meeting and in every workplace dispute a perception is slowly building that the public interest may have a number of silent advocates in the room,” Mr Assange said in an email interview. Wired.com published an extensive profile of him around the same time.
The question to ask, however, is whether there’s a compelling “public interest” in releasing the (partial) credit card information of donors to a political campaign and, if so, what is it? The Coleman campaign may have violated several state privacy laws, but the punishment will be delivered to the innocent.
One of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is to “minimize harm,” although it adds, “Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.” By providing links to the spreadsheet in question, have journalists overstepped their own code? Absolutely. Consider this item that’s in the code: “Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.” One cannot criticize the Coleman campaign for not securing its data, while at the same time publishing — or at least providing a direct link to — that data.
Efforts to close the site down have failed, because of the nature of the Internet in the first place. The organization behind it registered its domain name in Nairobi, Kenya. Last month, a federal judge in San Francisco, citing 1st Amendment considerations, rescinded an order that disabled the Web site when it was registered through a California server. The original order stemmed from a Swiss bank’s lawsuit against Wikileaks, which had posted 14 leaked documents about transactions at the bank.
It’s also the site where a person who broke into then-VP candidate Sarah Palin’s e-mail account posted the messages he retrieved.
Ironically, it also posted a leaked document containing the e-mail addresses of its own contributors.
There’ll be plenty of questions for the Coleman’s campaign alleged mishandling of data, but the story may also present a troubling picture of the collateral damage journalists’ can inflict, too.
Update: MPR’s Mark Zdechlik will update the story during this evening’s All Things Considered.
Update 8:24 p.m. Twin Cities based computer consultant Adria Richards describes how she found the security breach.
This was really interesting. One key fact she dropped was “I didn’t download anything; I just noticed that something wasn’t right.” I have found this to be a trait of I.T. professionals; they’re not interested in spreading the information that they know should be locked down, they want the information locked down.